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any of its financial decisions that seem improper,
explaining his reasons for doing so, and should the
assembly adhere to its original view, he may re-
fer the matter to the governor of the prefecture.
On the other hand, the assembly is competent to
appeal to the Home Minister from the governor's
decision. The county head-man may also take
upon himself, in case of emergency, any of the
functions falling within the competence of the
county assembly, provided that he reports the fact
to the assembly and seeks its sanction at the
earliest possible opportunity. In each district
also there is a head-man, but his post is always
elective and generally non-salaried. He occupies
towards a district assembly the same position that
the county head-man holds towards a county
assembly. Over the governors stands the Minis-
ter of State for Home Affairs, who discharges
general duties of superintendence and sanction,
has competence to elide any item of a local bud-
get, and may, with the Emperor's consent, order
the dissolution of a local assembly, provided that
steps are taken to elect and convene another
within three months. The machinery of local
administration is completed by councils of which
the governor of a prefecture, the mayor of a
town, 1 or the head-man of a county or district,

1 See Appendix, note 14.



is ex-officio president, and the councillors are
partly elective, partly nominated by the Central
Government. The councils may be said to stand
in an executive position towards the local legis-
latures, namely, the assemblies, for the former
give effect to the measures voted by the latter,
take their place in case of emergency and con-
sider questions submitted by them. This system
of local government has now been in operation for
fifteen years, and has been found to work well.
It constitutes a thorough method of political
education for the people, since the local assem-
blies prefectural, county, town, and district
aggregate no less than 15,492 throughout the
Empire. The general plan is Japanese, and the
details have much in common with the old-time
organisation familiar to the people, but in elab-
orating the scheme considerable assistance was
obtained from German experts. 1

The work of railway building was commenced
by the Meiji Government in 1 869, and the first line
that between Tokyo and Yokohama, a distance
of eighteen miles was opened for traffic in 1872.
But private capitalists showed no inclination to en-
gage in such enterprise, and when at length in 1888
a company the Nippon Tetsudo Kaisha (Japan
Railway Company) was projected, its organisa-
tion could not be completed until the Treasury
guaranteed eight per cent on the paid-up capital
for fifteen years. Progress was slow at first, so

1 See Appendix, note 15.



that in 1888 the total length of lines in operation
was only 318 miles, of which 205 miles had been
built by the Government and 1 1 3 by private en-
terprise. Thenceforth the work of construction
proceeded more rapidly, so that the average an-
nual addition made to private lines until the close
of 1899 was 208 miles, and that made to State
lines, 40 miles.

The total length of lines open for traffic at the
end of 1899 was 3,639 miles, of which 833 miles
had been constructed by the State and 2,806 miles
by private companies. The expenditure on ac-
count of State lines had been 70,000,000 yen, in
round numbers, or 84,034^72 per mile; and that
on account of private lines, 1 87,000,000 (including
debentures and loans), or 66,286 jwz per mile. The
difference in cost of construction is explained by the
facts that portions of the State roads were built be-
fore experience had indicated cheap methods ; that
extensive works for carriage building, repairs of
locomotives, etc., are connected with the Govern-
ment lines, and that it has fallen to the lot of the
State to undertake roads running through districts
that present exceptional engineering difficulties,
such districts being naturally avoided by private
companies. The number of passengers and the
quantity of goods carried over all the lines during
1899 were IO2 > II 5>94 2 an( ^ 18,820,034 tons, re-
spectively ; the gross earnings amounted to
38,219,272 yen, and the working expenses to
1 8, 833,217^^, leaving a net profit of 19,386,055



yen. Thus the working expenses represented forty-
nine per cent of the earnings, and the net profits
averaged a little over seven and a half per cent of
the invested capital.

The Government has in hand a programme in-
volving the construction of 1,230 miles of new
railways, and private companies which number
103 in all have obtained charters for building
961 miles, the former work involving an outlay
of 114,500,000 yen, and the latter an outlay of
60,000,000. Thus the roads actually in operation
and those immediately projected total 5,830 miles,
and the capital involved will aggregate 43 1 ,500,000

The programme of railway construction, as
originally planned and subsequently carried out in
great part, had for its basis a grand trunk line ex-
tending the whole length of the main island from
Aomori on the north to Shimonoseki on the
south, a distance of 1,153 m il es ; an d a continua-
tion of the same line throughout the length of
the southern island of Kiushiu from Moji on the
north which lies on the opposite side of the
strait from Shimonoseki to Kagoshima on
the south, a distance of 232 % miles, as well as a
line from Moji to Nagasaki, a distance of 163 y 2
miles. Of this main road, the State undertook to
build the central section (376 miles), between
Tokyo and Kobe (via Ky5to); the Japan Rail-
way Company undertook the portion (457 miles)
northward of Tokyo to Awomori ; the Sanyo



Railway Company undertook the portion (320
miles) southward of Kyoto to Shimonoseki ; and
the Kiushiu Railway Company undertook the lines
in Kiushiu. The whole road is now in operation
with the exception of two sections measuring
45 y miles and 89 % miles, respectively, namely,
the part of the Sanyo Railway between Mitajiri
and Shimonoseki, and the part of the Kiushiu
Railway between Kumamoto and Kagoshima. It
is not literally correct to say that this main
trunk line has been constructed as originally
planned. The first project was to carry the Tokyo-
Kyoto road through the interior of the island so
as to secure it against enterprises on the part of a
maritime enemy. Such engineering difficulties
presented themselves, however, that the coast
route was ultimately chosen, and though the line
through the interior was subsequently undertaken,
strategical considerations have not been allowed to
govern its direction completely. The programme
of construction is rendered sufficiently clear by a
glance at the map.

When Japan began to build railways, much
discussion was taking place in England and India
as to the relative advantages of the wide and nar-
row gauges, and so strongly did the arguments in
favour of the metre-gauge appeal to the Indian
Government that it adopted the latter in 1873,
although some five thousand miles of wide-gauge
roads had already been built. The English ad-
visers of the Japanese Government maintained



similar views, and it resulted that the metre
(3 ft. 6 in.) gauge was chosen. Some fitful efforts
made in later years to change the system proved
unsuccessful, and there is now little reason to
foresee any departure from the metre gauge.
The lines, too, are single, for the most part : only
250 miles of double track exist out of the 3,639
miles of road that have been built ; and as the
embankments, the cuttings, the culverts, and the
bridge-piers have not been constructed for a
double line, any change now would be very
costly. The average speed of passenger trains in
Japan is 1 8 miles an hour, the corresponding
figure over the metre-gauge roads in India being
1 6 miles, and the figure for English parliamentary
trains, from 19 to 28 miles. British engineers
surveyed the routes for the first lines, and super-
intended the work of construction, but within a
few years the Japanese were able to dispense with
foreign aid altogether, both in building and
managing their railroads. They also construct
carriages and wagons, but not locomotives, for
though one was successfully built at the Kobe
workshops under the superintendence of a British
engineer, the enterprise did not continue. The
lines are well ballasted, but the carriages are not
comfortable, and the points and signal arrange-
ments are of old patterns. Nevertheless there is
tolerable immunity from accidents and irregulari-
ties, and seeing that the working expenses average
only 49 per cent of the gross earnings, whereas



the corresponding figure in England is 55, it can
scarcely be doubted that the management is toler-
ably efficient, though facilities and arrangements
for the carriage of goods are still in a somewhat
undeveloped condition.

The growth of Japan's mercantile marine dur-
ing the Meiji era must not be omitted from the
story of her modern development. In 1 870 she
possessed only 35 steamers, their total registered
tonnage being 15,498 tons, with 11 sailing ves-
sels of foreign rig, aggregating 2,454 tons ; that
is to say, a commercial fleet of 46 vessels, having
a tonnage of 17,952 tons. The figures for 1899
were: steamers, 1,221 (total registered tonnage,
315,168 tons), and sailing vessels, 3,322 (total
registered tonnage, 269,032), making a fleet of
4,543 ships with a tonnage of 584,200 tons. She
has now regular steamship services to China, to
Vladivostock, to Korea, to Australia, to Formosa,
to British India, to North America, and to Europe.
Moreover, she is in a position to use her large
army for over-sea purposes, a fine fleet of trans-
ports being at all times procurable. Much of
this development has taken place since the con-
clusion of the China-Japan war in 1894-1895,
the Government having included in its post-
bellum programme a law granting liberal aid to
ship-builders and ship-owners. Japan is not yet
able, however, to build iron vessels in her own
dockyards. She understands the work of con-
struction, and can turn out large steamers by im-



porting materials from abroad. But she has not
hitherto possessed an iron foundry capable of
meeting the wants of her ship-builders, nor have
her iron mines furnished a sufficient supply of
good ore. Both deficiencies are now on the point
of being remedied, a large foundry having been
erected at Wakamatsu in Kiushiu, and arrange-
ments having been made to supplement the home
supply of ore by recourse to China. A factory
for rolling steel plates is also in contemplation,
and it may be confidently predicted that before
many years the Japanese will be able to build
their own warships and to manufacture their



Chapter IV


growth of worlds in space, the sepa-
ration of seas and lands by word of
command, the creation of light and the
genesis of all things, as recounted by
Moses, make no smaller demand upon human
credulity than do the cosmographical legends of
primeval Japan. Yet to the former centuries of
thought and cycles of discussion are devoted, while
the latter are dismissed with a note of exclamation.
The sequence of ideas that presided at the
elaboration of the Japanese cosmogony is at once
logical and illogical. Sometimes it shocks the
most lenient intelligence ; sometimes it surprises
the most skeptical scrutiny. In the beginning of
all sentient things two supreme beings are placed,
Izanagi and Izanami, themselves the out-
come of a series of semi-mystical, semi-realistic
processes of evolution. Matter already exists.
With its origin the Japanese cosmographist does
not attempt to deal. Ex nihilo nihiljit seems to
him an undeniable proposition, as it seemed to
Moses also. But it is matter almost completely
lacking consistency, an indescribable, nebulous,



unsubstantial, floating, muddy foam. Drops of
this filmy thing, falling from the point of Iza-
nagi's spear, crystallise into the first land, rising
small and solitary from the " blue waste of sea."
By that time the evolution of the creator and
creatrix has attained such a stage that they are
capable of procreation. They beget the islands
of Japan as well as a number of lesser divinities,
fashioned after their own image.

It is to be observed that the Japanese cosmog-
raphist did not rise to the idea of immaculate
conception. He found the process of procreation
sufficiently inscrutable, sufficiently miraculous,
even as he knew it, to be worthy of the great
originators of all things, and he saw no occasion
to explain a miracle by a miracle.

To the islands thus begotten a number of the
new deities descend. These are the terrestrial
divinities. At the outset the condition of the
land born in the waste of waters is almost as that
of the earth in the language of the Pentateuch,
without form, and void, darkness brooding over
the face of the deep. Then the god of fire is
brought forth, his celestial mother expiring in
travail. The creator follows her to the under-
world, but fails to recover her from its shades,
and, on his return, purifies himself by washing in
the waves, during which process many new deities
are evolved, among them, and chief among them,
the Goddess of the Sun (Amaterasu], but among
them, also, a legion of evil spirits of pollution,



destined to torment and afflict human beings
through all ages. The eating of the forbidden
fruit bequeathed to the Christian world its
legacy of sorrow and suffering and its awful
doctrine of original sin. The violation of a
law higher than his own mandates condemned
Izanagi to become the father of his children's

It will be observed that the conception of
cleanliness and the birth of light are synchronised
in the Japanese system. Thereafter ensues an
epoch during which the spirits of evil gain sway
in the newly created world, confusion and tumult
increase, until at last the creator delegates to the
Sun Goddess the task of restoring peace and
order. She dispatches her nephew Ninigi to do
the god's bidding, and by him the terrestrial divin-
ities are induced to surrender the sceptre, though
they continue during centuries to struggle for
power, until Jimmu, the first mortal descendant
of Ninigi, completes their subjugation.

In this cosmogony the birth of fire precedes
that of light, but both constitute a part of the
celestial cataclysm by which the earth is trans-
formed from chaos to cosmos. Other pens,
tracing the same story under other skies, con-
structed a not dissimilar version, still reverentially
taught in the nurseries and churches of the Occi-
dent, a world of indescribable matter, formless,
void, and dark ; the creation of land and its sep-
aration from water ; a sun called into existence



to lighten and vivify ; a long era of preparation,
divided into six epochs by the inspired writers of
the Old Testament, but of indefinite length in the
Japanese cosmogony ; finally, the subjugation of
the rebellious angels, the appearance of man upon
the scene, and his acquisition of dominion.

It has been said that whoever the earliest in-
vaders of the Far-Eastern islands were, there is no
more reason to suppose that they came to Japan
without a religion than that they arrived there
without a language. It has been further said by
a learned sinologue that Amaterasu is identical
with the Persian Mithras. A slightly increased
strain upon the imaginative faculty might extend
the line of Jimmu's ancestors to the city of Ur
and the thirty-million-bricked temple of the Sun
God ; for if it be once conceded that the Japanese
cosmogony is not indigenous but exotic, and if
ingenuity applies itself to trace analogies between
the outlines of Shinto and those of some conti-
nental " revelation," or likenesses between the
nomenclatures of the two, startling results are
soon reached. Such speculations are beside the
business of showing what the Japanese believed,
and how their beliefs influenced their lives.

Touching briefly upon these topics in a pre-
vious chapter, note was taken of the possibility of
translating Japan's semi-mythical traditions into
a vulgar record of aggressive invasions and defen-
sive struggles ; conflicts between the lust of con-
quest and the love of altar and hearth. Interesting



as such interpretations prove to the historian, they
must not be allowed to exclude other consid-
erations ; for whatever secular facts may be
embodied in these ancient cosmographies, they
enshrine also the germs of Japan's primitive reli-
gion, Shinto, or " the Way of the Gods," as it came
to be called when the presence of other creeds made
a distinctive appellation necessary. Before pass-
ing to a brief examination of the creed, a word
may be said as to how its supernatural elements
presented themselves to the national mind.

Among foreign observers it is commonly said
that destructive criticism has never been per-
mitted to invade the cosmogonal realm in Japan ;
that the basis of the national polity being the
divine origin of the Emperor, any doubts thrown
upon the traditions by which that genealogy is
established would be counted treasonable. There
is a large measure of truth in the supposition, but
it is not the whole truth. If anti-Christian per-
secutions be excepted and these were altogether
political men did not suffer any penalty for
their opinions in Japan. The celebrated scholar
Arai Hakuseki published a work of strongly
rationalistic tendencies in the beginning of the
eighteenth century ; and some sixty years later,
Ichikawa Tatsumaro wrote a brochure containing
many of the criticisms that have been given to the
world with such telling effect by modern Euro-
pean sinologues. 1 It would not have been pos-

1 See Appendix, note 1 6.




sible for any critic to attack more ruthlessly the
principle of the Mikado's divine descent than
Ichikawa attacked it. Yet he went unscathed ;
nay more, he and Arai received the high appre-
ciation justly accorded to those who, through a
sense of duty, oppose the strong current of popu-
lar opinion. With regard, on the other hand, to
the faith of believers in the bases of Shinto, it may
be summed up in the words attributed by Byron
to Athena's wisest son. " All that we know is,
nothing can be known." " It is impossible for
man with his limited intelligence," writes Mo-
toori Norinaga, 1 " to find out the principles which
govern the acts of the gods ; " they " are not to
be explained by ordinary theories. It is true that
the traditions of the creation and of its divine
directors, as handed down from antiquity, involve
the idea of acts which, judged by the petty stand-
ards of human philosophy, are accounted mira-
cles. But if the age of the gods has passed away,
if they no longer work world-fashioning and
heaven-unrolling wonders, none the less are we
surrounded on all sides by inexplicable miracles.
The suspension of the earth in space, the func-
tions of the human body, the flight of birds and
insects through the air, the blossoming of plants
and trees, the ripening of seeds and fruits, do
not these things transcend human intelligence as
hopelessly as the begetting of matter and the
birth of the sun ? And if it be called irrational

1 See Appendix, note 1 7.

VOL. V. 8 I 1 2


to believe in gods that are invisible to human
eyes, may we not answer that the existence of
many things is unquestioningly accepted, though
our eyes cannot discern their shapes ? Do we
not know that sweet odours exist, and soft
sounds ; that the air caresses our cheek, and that
the wind blows over the sea ; do we not know
that fire is hot and water cold, though of the
nature of heat and cold we know nothing ? The
principles that animate the universe are beyond
the power of analysis, neither can they be fath-
omed by human intelligence. All statements
founded on pretended explanations of them are
to be rejected. All that man can think out and
know is limited by the power of sight, of feeling,
and of calculation. What transcends those powers
lies beyond the potential range of thought." 1
There would not be much difficulty in fitting
foreign analogies to this suggestive framework
of Japanese conceptions.

Side by side with an attitude so humble towards
the mysteries of nature, there was an almost
fierce assertion of Japan's claim to be the reposi-
tory of revealed truth. " Our country," says
Hirata Atsutane, " owing to the facts that it was
begotten by the two gods Izanagi and Izanami,
that it was the birthplace of the Sun Goddess, and
that it is ruled by her sublime descendants for
ever and ever, as long as the universe shall en-
dure, is infinitely superior to other countries,

1 See Appendix, note 1 8.


whose chief and head it is. Its people are honest
and upright of heart, not given to useless theoris-
ing and falsehoods like other nations. Thus it
possesses correct and true information with regard
to the origin of the universe, information trans-
mitted to us from the age of the gods, unaltered
and unmixed, even in the slightest degree, with
unsupported notions of individuals. This is the
genuine and true tradition/' Here again the
reader, if he pleases, can find in the Occident par-
allel examples of defiant faith based on an equally
small grain of mustard seed.

From what has thus far been written, it will
be seen at once that ancestor-worship was the
basis of Shinto. The divinities, whether celestial
or terrestrial, were the progenitors of the nation,
from the sovereign and the princes surrounding
the Throne to the nobles who discharged the ser-
vices of the State and the soldiers who fought its

Worship of these gods seems to have been
originally conducted in the open air. Shrines
were not constructed until the first century before
the Christian era. Very soon, however, the
children of the deities found no lack of set
places to pray, for from the naiku and geku of
Ise, the Mecca of Japan, to the miniature miyas
that dotted the rice plains, thousands of shrines
might be counted throughout the realm, and
every house had its K.ami-dana, or " god shelf,"
before which morning and evening prayers were



said with unfailing regularity and devoutness.
Many Western critics have alleged that Shinto is
not a religion ; that it provides no system of
morals, offers no ethical code, has no ritual, and
does not concern itself about a future state.
Nevertheless, creed or cult, Shinto may certainly
claim to have established a strong hold upon the
heart of the people. The annual pilgrimages to
the Shrines of Ise, where the Goddess of the Sun
and the Goddess of Abundance are worshipped, at-
tract tens of thousands of devotees each spring, and
the renovation of the buildings every twentieth
year 1 rouses the whole nation to a fervour of faith.
Not a peasant believes that his farm can be pro-
ductive, not a merchant that his business can
thrive, unless he pays, or honestly resolves to pay,
at least one visit to Ise during his lifetime, and
no household believes itself purged of sin unless
its members clasp hands and bow heads regularly
before the Kami-dan a. Shinto, in truth, is essen-
tially a family creed. Its roots are entwined
around the principle of the household's integrity
and perpetuity. Nothing that concerns the wel-
fare of the family or the peace and prosperity of
the household is too small or too humble for
apotheosis. There is a deity of the caldron in
which the rice is boiled, as there is a deity of
thunder ; there is a god of the saucepan, as there
is a divinity of the harvest ; there is a spirit of
the " long-rope well," as there is a spirit of phys-

1 See Appendix, note 19.



ical perfection. All the affairs of man are sup-
posed to have a claim on the benevolent solicitude
of these immortal guardians. In the ritual for
invoking fortune on behalf of the Imperial Palace
at the time of building the ritual of dedication
the spirits of rice and of timber are besought,
with the utmost precision of practical detail, to
forefend the calamity of serpents' crawling under
the threshold ; the calamity of birds' flying in
through the smoke-holes in the roof and defiling
the food ; the calamity of pillars' loosening and

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Online LibraryF. (Frank) BrinkleyJapan, its history, arts and literature (Volume 5) → online text (page 7 of 16)